Grace on Broadway

I took Firecracker to see GRACE on Broadway last week, a play starring Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington and the still-fierce Ed Asner. It is a funny but surprisingly dark and thoughtful look at the mechanics of faith, religious or otherwise, and how it changes how we adapt to what the universe throws at us.

Rudd Arrington Grace

It begins with a murder-suicide, so you know what you’re getting into from the opening line. Then it dials back and shows what led up to it. The acting is phenomenal, and made me wish Rudd did more drama. He and Arrington play a couple from Minnesota who move to Florida for a real estate deal, to open a Gospel themed hotel chain. Michael Shannon plays a science geek who has survived what I call an everyday tragedy: the horrible things we hear of, but accept as normal until they happen to us or someone we care about.

Michael Shannon Grace

Once they break through his bitter shell, he’s quite funny and a bit nerdy, not the usual Shannon character. Very refreshing. Ed Asner is a force of nature, and also plays against type. He is a German immigrant who survived the horrors of World War 2, which erased God from his universe. The story reveals how each character came to their faith or lack thereof, and is not about whether there is a God at the wheel of fate or not, but how the characters deal with the worst life has to offer. And yet, it still manages to be very funny between these heartrending epiphanies.

Grace Asner
It’s not DOUBT, but it gives you plenty to think about. Which is stronger armor against the world, optimism or pessimism? If faith is your crutch, what happens when life kicks it out from under you?

GRACE runs at the Cort Theater in Manhattan until January 6th. If you’re a Paul Rudd fan, check the schedule. He has a sub during Hanukkah and I am not sure if he is returning.

I Love You, Man

The bromantic comedy will be remembered as one of the biggest genres of the noughts, and John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man may not be the best of them, but it is very funny, and pokes fun at the homoerotic implications of the genre itself. Paul Rudd is Peter Klaven, a man engaged to be married to love-of-his-life Zooey, but there’s one problem- he doesn’t have any male friends to be groomsmen, or even a Best Man.
So instead of your typical rom-com where the lead seeks members of the opposite sex to bond with, he goes on man-dates, and tries to befriend someone in time for his wedding. See, Peter’s always been one of those guys who made friends with women more easily. Now, I was raised in a household with 3 women and no other men, but I’ve always found that anyone who doesn’t have any friends of their own sex has some sort of issue; we never find out what Peter’s might be, but Rudd plays him against his usual smart-ass, sharp-witted type as a sensitive nebbish whose favorite day ever eas when he and Zooey made a summer salad and watched Chocolat.
This makes him a hard sell as a friend to the average guy; as expected, one of his man-dates gets mistaken as a gay romantic interlude. In fact, the movie, and Peter’s character, reminded me a lot of In & Out, Frank Oz’s coming-out comedy with Kevin Kline. John Hamburg also wrote the Meet the Parents soon-to-be trilogy, and Along Came Polly; the script isn’t quite perfect, but it didn’t remind me of any of those films, and that’s a very good thing. He teamed up with Larry Levin, writer of the Dr. DoLittle movies, for the screenplay, and it’s rather amazing that something this good came of the coupling.
Peter tries to befriend his fiance’s girlfriends’ husbands, and Jon Favreau is great as the dickish typical hubby- he has a “Guy’s night” of poker, sports and beer-chugging games that he invites Peter to; you can imagine how that goes, when Pete’s more comfortable making root beer floats with chocolate straws for Zooey’s girlfriends. When all seems lost, he meets Sydney Fife- Jason Segel from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (full review)- a scruffy, blunt and in-your-face kinda guy who shows up the open house for Lou Ferrigno’s home, that Peter’s trying to sell. Sydney’s only there for the free food, but he helps Pete read some guy body language to see who’s a serious buyer, and who’s there to impress girl. And who’s doing the one cheek sneak, hiding a fart.
I liked Segel in Marshall, which he also wrote- and he sort of steals the show here, since Rudd isn’t allowed his usual snappy banter. Rudd is still quite good, and it was wise to break stereotype, but Firecracker, a big fan, was disappointed with the character. He’s the straight man (though that’s sometimes ambiguous) so the rest of the cast gets most of the good lines, which there are many. The movie has a slow start, but stick with it; once Segel shows up, the comic energy is pumped to a higher level, and Rudd has more chance to shine as he loosens up and becomes a man’s man. They bond over a love of Rush, start a two-man band, and his friendship starts interfering with the upcoming marriage, of course.
The story doesn’t come to a perfect conclusion, but there are plenty of laughs along the way. Lou Ferrigno has a big cameo, which I liked a lot. Lou doesn’t get a lot of work these days, and it was nice to see him play himself. I met him at NYC Comicon this year, when he was in the autograph line for 5+ hours. Not the best circumstances, but I’ve had a soft spot since liking the Hulk as a kid, and then seeing Pumping Iron as an adult. There’s a battle with an aggressive real estate agent at Peter’s job, and family fun with Dad (J.K. Simmons from Juno, Oz, and Spider-Man‘s Jonah Jameson) and Andy Samberg (Hot Rod, SNL) as Peter’s gay brother. The supporting cast are all really good, and help hold Rudd up as he deviates from his tried and true wit to a straight-man.
I think what I liked best was that this is the most bromantic of the bro-coms, and can only be topped with a gay rom-com like Jeffrey. Maybe it’s time the bromances calm down a bit, and just become comedies; us 30-something nerdy bachelors have enough movies to make us feel special.

Rating: 3.5 brossieres out of 5

Over Her Dead Body

Eva Fangoria Parker should stick to Desperate Housewives. In Over Her Dead Body, she plays a shrill, control freak bride blessedly killed by an ice sculpture on her wedding day. If the movie ended there, it would be an Oscar winning short subject, but it goes on for another hour and a half, with only the snappy wit and charm of Paul Rudd to save it. Stephen Root also has a thankless part as a scruffy sculptor, and Lake Bell is decent as Rudd’s romantic interest, but there’s not much else to like.
Paul Rudd’s a guy’s guy. In Role Models (full review) he showed he can carry his own film, but unfortunately here he’s playing second fiddle to a ghostly bridezilla. Normally, I enjoy Hollywood fantasies about the afterlife. For a guy to watch Ghost, it says something. So I sat through this one with the Firecracker, since she has a crush on Paul Rudd, and I needed to make sure she wouldn’t pack her bags and stalk him after seeing this. He’s pretty much the only redeeming quality of the film, which suffers from some of the same malaise Ghost Town (full review) had- it’s tough to make us care about a couple of funny jerks and then believe when they change like Scrooge on Christmas Day.
Eva Longhorn Parker tries really hard, but she’s a bitch (the film’s original title was Ghost Bitch) from scene one, and we wonder why Paul Rudd would tolerate her for even a moment. The script plays off of stuff from Ghost, but could have used a few rewrites- I began to wonder if Rudd’s dialogue was improvised, but even that is only barely memorable. All I can recall right now is when he gets her a sandwich, and says “I hope you like it, I was going to get pumpernickel, but didn’t want you to think I was imposing my weird bread fetish on you.” There’s also a lot of slapstick involving his new love interest and her Great Dane that makes you wonder.

So boys, if you are forced to watch this, negotiate oral sex in advance. And that may not be enough to make this tolerable. Gals- it might be worth throwing on in the background if you like Rudd. And yeah, her name’s Longoria, I know. Durrrr.

Rating: Stinky

Role Models

Damn it is great to see a hilarious comedy that Judd Apatow has no involvement with. I like his films, but give someone else a chance. David Wain, writer of “The State,” one of the best skit comedy shows ever, and director of Wet Hot American Summer comes together with snarkmaster Paul Rudd (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Sean William Scott- who hasn’t been this entertaining and well, not annoying since he was The Rock’s punching bag/sidekick in The Rundown– to give us a filthy-mouthed but soft-hearted comedy that somehow manages to make fun of, and yet embrace male nerdery of many kinds.

If you’ve seen the Role Models trailer or commercials you know the story- Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) work for an energy drink company, peddling “Minotaur” to school kids to keep them off drugs and on hyper-caffeinated, guarana-infused beverages. Wheeler loves it- he gets to dress up as a bull-man and bag chicks, but Danny hates the dead-endedness of his job, and his girlfriend Beth, a lawyer, is sick and tired of his super-negative attitude. So she dumps him, and Danny breaks down in front of a bunch of schoolkids and causes untold mayhem, which lands him and Wheeler with a 30 day jail term. Unless they placate the judge by performing 120 hours of community service with his favorite charity, Sturdy Wings.
Sturdy Wings is the creation of a tough-as-nails ex-addict Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch, A Mighty Wind) with a dagger tattoo on her arm and a no-bullshit attitude. She’s not going to let them coast through their sentence, since she had to claw her way out of hell. So she hooks them up with her two toughest cookies. Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, “Human Giant”) is a foul-mouthed, hostile little black kid who delights in embarrassing and shocking the shit out of adults. Something he is quite good at, greeting Wheeler with an accusation of pederasty. And Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “McLovin” from Superbad) is a fantasy-obsessed nerd who gallavants around in a cape, with his trusty foam sword at his side. To his credit, he doesn’t just play McLovin again, and this nerd is different from his last.

Happy-go-lucky Wheeler takes foul-mouthed little Ronnie in stride; he’s obviously a smart enough kid who acts out because he wants to see what he can get away with; his mom isn’t a stereotypical exasperated single mother, but one who knows what her son needs- a positive male role model- and who doesn’t give in to his bad boy shtick. Wheeler eventually bonds with the boy over a mutual love of boobies, and when he explains the enduring power of the rock band KISS, I was in stitches. How he tells the tale of a bunch of Jewish guys from New York who dress up weird t get laid and sing about their penises, is a masterful bit of writing filtered through Sean William Scott’s likeable doofus persona.

Augie introduces Danny to his fantasy world- players of a game called LAIRE- Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Experience- or what the geekerati know as LARPing. If you read my review of Monster Camp you’ll know all you need. LAIRE is a bit of LARP with a healthy dose of obsessiveness from the Society for Creative Anachronism; we meet a gaggle of people at the local park dressed up as knights and maidens, who like to whack each other in the face with padded foam swords. These folk are lorded over by King Argotron (Ken Jeong, Pineapple Express) who may not be able to grow a real moustache but can lead a nerdy nation of cape-wearing Renn Faire rejects. Danny refuses to get involved at first, but of course Augie slowly grows on him. Mintz-Plasse plays up the nerd angle but stays likeable and doesn’t tumble into parody.
If there’s a weak point it’s that the women get little to do, and when they do, it’s a bit over the top. Jane Lynch has some great moments as the hard-ass leader, but she sticks out as the least realistic character. She seems like an exile from an SNL skit, while everyone else is fully fleshed. Danny’s girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno) gets very little to do except give Danny a chance to redeem his misanthropic ways. That’s unfortunate, since she’s quite a good actress, and it would have given the girls a bit more to laugh about. KISS and Dungeons & Dragons jokes aren’t really their domain. Ronnie’s hilarious asides, like constantly calling Danny “Ben Affleck” are enough to make the movie fun, thankfully.

When Danny finally understands Augie and how to channel his own anger to get things done instead of bitching all the time, the final mash-up of KISS and D&D nerds is a rollercoaster ride of hilarity. Like Monster Camp, the nerds are poked fun at, but much of the joke is how mundane their strange hobby is to them, and the people who hatefully mock them- like Augie’s stepdad- are made the butt of the joke in the end. It was a masterstroke to include a much more mainstream example of Adults Dressing Up, such as KISS and Minotaur mascots, so we’d have something accepted to compare it to. The theater loved it as well, and they couldn’t have all been nerds who were already familiar with the concept of adults dressing in capes.
It has its flaws- Jane Lynch’s character really doesn’t come into her own until the end, and Danny’s inevitable reunion with Beth is a bit unlikely, albeit heartwarming. But Sean William Scott has graduated from his Dude, Where’s My Car? days, and Paul Rudd is proving that he can lead a film. He’s got his own thing going, and let’s hope like Ronnie says, that the Jersey boy (Passaic born and bred, yo) gets to be Ben Affleck some day. He’s got the chops. McLovin shows he’s not a one note wonder like Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder, and Bobb’e Thompson is funnier at age 12 than most adults in the skit comedy gang. He’s going to be one funny motherfucker.

So, Role Models is a fine role model for an R-rated comedy. At least two sets of fine boobies- probably added as a what-the-hell measure when it was obvious they’d never get a PG-13 with Bobb’e dropping F-bombs and McLovin waxing jizzpantsic over Queen Esplen- bring us back to the early 80’s era of Caddyshack-style guy-comedy, unlike the Apatow bromantic kind where wiggling wangs rule the screen. David Wain, I salute you. I didn’t like Wet Hot American Summer‘s over-the-top antics much, but I thank you for this movie. It’s one of the best comedies of 2008, a year that gave us Pineapple Express and the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall among others, so that’s saying a lot.

3½ whispering eyes out of 4.